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The Imaginary Divide

Twa, Michael D.

Optometry and Vision Science: April 2019 - Volume 96 - Issue 4 - p 237
doi: 10.1097/OPX.0000000000001372

Editor in Chief, Birmingham, AL



From its inception, the American Academy of Optometry was founded on the principles of the highest clinical and ethical standards for its members and a commitment to a scientific basis for the practice of optometry. The founders envisioned a scholarly society that would bring together the best and most capable practitioners along with researchers and educators to help establish the knowledge base that would ultimately define and advance the profession of optometry. For nearly 100 years, the American Academy of Optometry has remained true to this vision and has defined excellence in the profession. The society's journal, Optometry and Vision Science, is tangible evidence of the founders' foresight and commitment to high standards for clinical practice, founded on a scientific basis. Nevertheless, there is an undercurrent pressuring this foundation laid long ago with the potential to sacrifice the representation and contributions that research and scientific discovery make in the fabric of our culture. Research and discovery are essential for the future of the society and the profession.

It is natural that an organization with a dual purpose should feel a shift in balance over time. Perhaps this shift is nothing more than a tidal rhythm and a sign of vitality that should be expected and welcome. However, we must candidly recognize this shift and carefully scrutinize it so that we do not fail to see any pernicious causes that might indicate disease or decay that could reshape the organization unintentionally. We should see that the balance does not shift too greatly and risk excluding members of our community that are vital to the society's long-term success and survival.

Edward O. Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning author on topics woven from biology, sociology, evolution, and ecology. In his 2012 book titled The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson examines the biological forces that drive social behaviors in humans. Tribalism is an undeniably deep-rooted social reality.

“To form groups, drawing visceral comfort and pride from familiar fellowship, and to defend the group enthusiastically against rival groups—these are among the absolute universals of human nature and hence of culture.” Edward O. Wilson

Our modern daily lives are a complex web of interwoven social networks where we constantly negotiate cooperation, standing, and ultimately seek to connect with others who share contextually similar beliefs. If clinician scientists and researchers are not embraced, if they do not see others who share their values and beliefs, we risk losing them and their valuable contributions to the larger family. From Wilson's perspective, the fates of evolutionary branches on the tree are shaped and selected just as powerfully by these social forces as they are by any biological determinants.

The leadership of the American Academy of Optometry is currently engaged in a strategic planning process. Members from all strata of the organization, volunteers and directors alike, are considering the current state of the Academy, its future direction, and how best to invest the society's available energy, time, money, and other resources. This planning can be useful to encourage reflection, consider the organizational structure and its alignment, and renew the statement of purpose. Often the process ends with an affirmation of former goals and a limited interruption of the previous course. More often than not, strategic planning rarely reshapes the direction or priorities of an organization. Fundamental organizational change requires a concomitant assessment of the organizational goals and strategies as well as the organizational structure, its systems, the skills of its personnel, and importantly the context of the cultural environment. Rarely do organizations dive this deeply during strategic planning, and without a candid assessment of the full architecture, the likelihood of change is fairly small. This organizational assessment is timely and may be especially important now as we contemplate the current and future role of research and discovery in the society.

There is both jeopardy and opportunity in strategic planning. The current exercise should carefully consider the history of the American Academy of Optometry and whether the existing culture is aligned with the stated goals. If not, then it will be necessary to look deeper into the organizational architecture so that the society's infrastructure and culture can be aligned with the long-term goals and feasible strategies developed and deployed. The vitality of the profession of optometry in 20 years depends on the discoveries being made in research laboratories today. The future strength of the American Academy of Optometry depends, as it always has, on excellence in clinical practice and on our commitments to research and discovery. Have you hugged a scientist lately?

© 2019 American Academy of Optometry